Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Are our teenagers really getting dumber?

Dimming down: How the brainpower of today's 14-year-olds has slipped 'radically' in just one generation | Mail Online

I don't see as the conclusion of the study is entirely convincing. Especially the "it's all the fault of TV and Video Games!" part of the conclusion. There have been other studies that point to the idea that video games especially, but also television in general can contribute to enhancements to some cognitive functions.

Other problems - was this just a one-time test, or do they have multiple, longitudinal results to compare?

I'm just not sure that you can say that that big of a change has occurred in such a short time. This is, of course, a press release that will sensationalize the more controversial aspects of the study so this surface report is not much to rely on - but the results of the original study would be interesting to see.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Red is sexy

Well, at least for men it is

I'm a sucker for a good "perception" study. So, all you women out there - you want that man to notice you, wear red.

I wonder though: red is perceived as a "power" color and is thus frequently worn by people (even women) in powerful positions, and especially by politicians. Does wearing red by a female politician make her seem more desirable? 

Also, Presidents Regan and Bush were/are famously accustomed to noticing female reporters dressed in red. Doesn't that just open a whole new can of worms!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blasting "Spore" - harsh reality

Flunking Spore -- Bohannon 322 (5901): 531b -- Science

This is an amazing critique of the "evolution" game Spore. What is most interesting is not the actual critique (which form my experience with the game is entirely accurate: visually interesting and somewhat creative but nothing revolutionary and certainly not educational in the slightest) but the message behind the critique.

The problem is that the game is simply NOT an educational game, and despite some clever marketing to make it appear so, was never intended to be educational; the creators know better than to try that angle. A truly educational game would never be a big seller. To sell copies you need to have strong game play, which in the culture of gaming means that it has to have familiar goals and objectives and have a recognizable play style.

For educational gaming to make the leap into mainstream gaming you'd have to come up with something pretty remarkable. But it would not be beyond the realm of possibility. One easy example would be a war-history game (using the Civil War, or even specific battles, as a template) and then allow gamers to try their hand at winning the great war.

The bottom line for educational games is: if you want to make money, you can't make it educational. That paradigm might shift in the future as game-play becomes ever more immersive, but for now that's the paradigm we have to live with, and one very big (multi-billion $ big) reason why there are so few resources devoted to educational gaming.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gaming news

Gaming Round Up « Neuroanthropology

The ever-interesting Gaming News Round Up! Always good for some interesting reading.

Is a Bachelor's Degree worth it?

America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree -

Well, the majority of the article focuses on those lower 40% of the graduating class for whom college is a major struggle. The author devotes a little time to the actual utility of a bachelor's degree in today's world, and makes some very good points.

What is probably more sad is that a bachelor's is not the defacto starting point for any meaningful employment in corporate America, and means very little in the grand scheme of things. If everyone has one, what is it that sets you apart? Now the masters is the new bachelor - the minimum degree required to be considered for most upper level positions, and a PhD is becoming more commonplace as a means to and end in the working world. A PhD used to be almost solely for the purposes of entering into academia, now it seems that it is headed for the same status as the masters degree was 15 years ago.

I've posted about his main beef, the cost of higher education before, and there is much discussioin about it. It shouldn't be that expensive, and it shouldn't be something difficult just for the sake of being difficult.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Perceiving Beauty

Seems that our definition of beauty (in regards to facial beauty) are influenced rather significantly by our social groups.

So beauty isn't just in the eye of the beholder, but in the recognition of the group.

Nature vs. Nurture in IQ

Some very interesting observations here.

Essentially: the latest and most detailed tests for genetic markers of intelligence make a difference of less than one percent of the variation. That's not much.

Helicopter parenting

I know several mothes that need to be shown this research. Pair it with this research and then you're looking at some real problems.

How big is your memory?

We don't know, but apparently it's bigger than we previously thought.

Although, I will say this, if another person says "we only use 10% of our brains" again - I swear I'm going to freak out.

Your guide to free will

Finally...NOW I have a guide to understanding free will.

I haven't dived in yet, but I hope that it presents both sides of the argument.

Politics and the brain

I've been seeing a lot of posts about politics and the brain (for obvious reasons). Rather than try to summarize them, I'll just dump all of them here.

Cognitive Dissonance and Politics

The Political Brain

The Neuroscience of Voting

Whither the "Teen Brain"?

There has been some solid research recently on the differences in the teen brain, some of it more sensational than others. This article gives a rather even-handed approach to the issue.

Behavioral Economics

It's a hot new field of research and study, but is it really all it's cracked up to be?

I'm all for creating productive jobs for different fields, and especially in favor of finding practical application of neuroscience research. I don't think it's so much that the field isn't useful as it is still in the infant stages of development. Give it time to prove effective or not - then make a judgement.

Happiness therapy: Self-acceptance

So, is unconditional self-acceptance actually a good thing? I'm not so sure. It is certainly a good way of skirting around some of the issues created by feelings of guilt and shame (as mentioned previously). For some people I'm sure it would be a good thing, but I'm not so sure this is a benefit from a societal perspective.

Happiness = long life

Gee - this is a real shocker! [/sarcasm] Happiness can add 10 years to your life.

Heck, at the very least it would help you enjoy your time on the planet even if it was shorter than someone who was unhappy.

Exercise your way to a better memory

Not memory exercises, but actual physical exercise.

The more we study it, the more we find that regular exercise is the key to nearly every aspect of a happy life.

Heck, even thinking is a great way to burn calories!

Make memory more meaningful!

....through alliteration!

Sorry...couldn't resist.

"I do not think it means what you think it means."

Archaic references to Inigo Montoya not withstanding, I can't wait to dig into this series of articles - not just re-visitin, but changing our perception of some of the most classical psychological studies of all time.

Apparently the popularly held perception of the result of these studies is not exactly supported by the actual results of the original studies. I love finding out that things don't necessarily mean what you think they mean.

More thoughts here.

See what you believe

....speaking of's a great article on how even our visual perception is altered by our beliefs.

So, you know - it's all in your head!

Negative Self-perception, Shame and Guilt

Negative Self-perception and Shame Psychology Today Blogs

I have wanted for some time to do a little more research involving shame and guilt and the effects those feelings have on motivation. Certainly from the perspective of strongly religious people guilt could be a very powerful motivating factor to action. I think that we could find that it could be, in a round-about way, an effective motivation for positive action.

Here are some additional (negative) thoughts about feelings of Guilt. Again, I disagree - it is not a "wasted" emotion, it is your minds way of using negative emotion to embed a memory of "wrong" actions in a way that could help diminish those behaviors. Guilt and Shame are closely related and both very powerful and seeingly universal feelings - even from an evolutionary standpoint (which I don't necessarily advocate) they should point to a very useful origin.

Instead of marginalizing them and trying to get people to ignore them, why not go the "positive psychology" route (more or less) and channel their effects for greater positive emotions?

Here are some thoughts on how the language of pride and shame seem to have universal roots in our neurobiology across cultures.

Perception vs. Wine

I've mentioned this experiment (or similar ones) before - and it never ceases to crack me up.

I just read a very good article on the phenomenon of expensive wines at auction and how the big players spend, literally, millions a year on wine - for a personal collection. Not for a restaurant - for a personal wine cellar. Hell, if they gave me the amount of money they spend in ONE MONTH on wine I could pay off all my debts.

That's why this study just kills me. Essentially it's saying they spend all that money for essentially the perception and not for the actual result.

Expert memory

Memory is never as good as people like to think it is.

I wonder if self-descriptive positive therapy could have an effect on memory?

Socia/Emotional education

Referring back to the previous post, perhaps that is one of advantages of home schooling over public schooling - social and emotional education.

Public education seems bent on the idea of raising "self-esteem" (put in quotes to recognize that it is a nebulous term that is defined in various ways depending on the intention of the speaker) and very little attention is paid to actually educating children on their social and emotional skills. Whereas the intimate nature of home schooling provides a wonderful opportunity to give that type of education. Social and emotional training being inherently a one-off and individual type of instruction that requires intimate knowledge of the experiences and behaviors of the individual being taught. Public school, by its very nature, is incapable of being effective at that type of instruction.

Again - we need better studies of home schooling and how it affects the children.

Home school vs. Public school

Here are some very interesting thoughts on the results from public vs. home schooling.

The author is a rather cranky conservative, but his argument isn't entirely without merit. Home schooled kids DO tend to perform better on standardized test (although I haven't seen the spread of the test results, so it's also possible that public school produces a narrower band of results than home schooling, so whild home schooling produces a general higher result, the depths of bad home schooling could be much worse than public schooling - just a thought).

What I'm interested in seeing is a study as to WHY home schoolers do better. Arguments about "socialtiy" I think are bogus. As our social networks move towards an electronic basis (text messaging, social web applications) the supposed benefit of socializing in a school setting become less "obvious" (although I'm not sure they were obvious to begin with). I think the socialization argument is a more of an artificial construct by virtue of the laws of education. Children could receive the same social "training" from sports programs or from other social groups like church.

No, I'm more interested to see or study what type of educational activities that are accomplished by home schooled children give them an advantage (if any - results on standardized tests are not exactly the best indication of anything other than the ability to perform on a standardized test) over public schooled children.

I will also just pause in noting that the extreme measures legal and legislative measures that the teacher's unions are exercising against home schooled children seem to indicate a reaction of fear rather than any concrete objection about the validity of home schooling.

Free will and ethics

I'm always up to post someone's thoughts on the free will debate - so here are some thoughts on free will and ethics.

Play video games. All. Life. Long.

I'm showing my wife this post RIGHT NOW!!!

Kidding (sort of). I'm really liking all of the research and developments being done in the gaming & education world. Very exciting.

More on how gaming can make you a better person.

More news and info on gaming as a part of our culture here and here and still more here.

Cheater's never prosper

Well, I'm not sure that our current economy is a valid testament to that, some pretty big fortunes were made on cheating the system (but now large amounts of people are paying the price both directly and indirectly).

Well, here is some news on the psychological profiles of students who don't cheat.

Lots of information has been generated about students who do cheat, so this is a welcome addition to the canon.

Integrative Neuroscience

More please. I'm always interested in hearing about cross-discipline colaboration or cooperation in driving for a better understanding of how things work.

These are not the droids you're looking for....

Yep - learn how to do the jedi mind trick on just about anyone - all based on scientific research!

More on "bite-sized" persuasion techniques.

Online research vs. Library research

Very interesting take on the mechanics and habits we form for reading online vs. in a library.

I'll give a tentative agreement, although it doesn't seem that they address the effort put into the research. If I was told to research something on the Internet that would be gauged against the research of someone working from a library, I'd be much more thorough. I think there might be some basic predisposition to the type of information you want that would drive you to one direction or the other. Basic info: Internet; in-depth info: library.

The study (as described in the post) just seems to be a little thin on finding or controlling for the motivation of the reading.

The therapy of hope

And I'm not talking about Obama's "audacity of hope" sound bite either. I'm talking about the emerging idea of "Positive Psychology" - seems that it is rather effective against depression.

Medicate before Meditate

The post title is somewhat misleading and an attempt at cute alliteration, but the idea remains: psychologist are reducint the amount of time they spend in psychotherapy. The key item in the article mentions that more psychologists are medicating their patients rather than providing psychotherapy (which is time consuming and difficult with unreliable results).

I'm pretty sure that this isn't because drugs are becoming more effective, but there are more options that seem to be more specifically targeted. I'm all for limiting certain types of psychotherapy (Freudian psychoanalysis being my favorite target) - but I'm not sure that moving to a "medicate first" option is a good way to go.

I'm not a fan of the "magic bullet" scenario in any field of medicine.

More thoughts on the death of psychotherapy here.

Cultural substrates of cognition

I speak a lot about my interest in how cultures influence our cognitive abilities. I would like to do more research on the subject, but here is a great post about the subject.

Grow your brain

Well, sort is a list of 5 free methods for exercising your brain.

Too. Many. Options.

I've posted a few times in the past on some recent research on how too many choices can actually be a bad thing and cripple effective decision making paradigms.

Here is a great summary of some research by one of the leaders in that field.

Compensation as motivation

Research shows that it's not that great of a motivator, and at the very least it is not a good internal motivator or a motivator for a mastery orientation.

Here is a great little summary and an online poll that I found very interesting.

More thoughts on external motivating factors here.

Decide to be happy

Be happy through better decision making.

Pretty sure I posted about this previously, but it's such an interesting idea to present that I don't mind duplication (if in fact that is what is going on).

I decide to duplicate!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Love in the communication age

Internet, Cellphones May Strengthen Family Unit, Study Finds -

Totally awesome. I'm a big fan of the new social media (the so-called web 2.0) - there are just so many possibilities of actually strengthening communication and social ties. I love it.

More thoughts here, including the observation that as a society we are spending less time watching TV (an inherintly anti-social activity) and spending more time on the web (a potentially highly social activity) and the thought that increasing collaborative online applications will lead to some as-yet-unforseen positive social outcomes.

I am in full agreement with these thoughts and observations.

Here are some thoughts on how to learn how to build better social networks.

Chicken or egg?

The Associated Press: Study: Peers, not profs, influence student views

So, peer groups influence political leanings more than professors....but according to the article there are more leftist leaning peer groups in college than not. So, the conclusion is that peer groups are more influential than the generally left-leaning professors. I wouldn't presume to argue that as a general idea. However, why are there more left-leaning peer groups in college? So, I guess that means there there is NO possibility that the left-leaning prevalence of the professors has NO influence on the general zeitgeist of the student body?

The whole idea just seems a little half-formed to me.

Games for education

Wired Campus: Microsoft and Universities Will Study Using Games to Teach Middle-School Students -

Always a good subject. I've been very interested in producing games as a part of education, getting one of the biggest players in the gaming industry (Microsoft) involved can only be a good thing. I'm actually surprised it took this long for Microsoft to make this move. Bill Gates is quite interested in education, so it's a little surprising that he didn't make more major inroads to the education industry through games before.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the there anything it can't do?

BBC NEWS Health Internet use 'good for the brain'

Well, this is just the best news EVER!

Of course, standard disclaimers apply. It is new research after all.

More here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The incredible shrinking brain - Is Drinking Shrinking Your Brain? - Health News | Current Health News | Medical News

This certainly goes against a lot of the recent press on the benefits of alcohol consumption (actually, most of the news is on the consumption of wine - and only occasionally about beer or other alcoholic drinks).

I guess not drinking alcohol, and not buying into all the "benefits" of drinking could be a good decision.

Of course, as with all things involving the media, take the above with a large grain of salt. I'm willing to bet that we don't understand fully the effect of alcohol on our bodies to the fullest extent, and it probably also varies a little from person to person.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Re-evaluating the four-year college degree

Cato Unbound » Blog Archive » Down with the Four-Year College Degree!

I like some of the thinking here. His primary argument is quite obviously giving the rather large topic of college level education a short shrift and simplifying things a bit too much, however - it's still a valid point he's making.

How do we fix it? I have no idea.

But isn't it worth thinking about?

Effort IS worth it

Seth's Blog: Is effort a myth?

This post has been making some waves around the blogosphere recently - and with good reason. Effort IS worth something and research shows that it is. The problem really lies in the sense of entitlement that young people seem to have these days - you can't just make a living or just make ends meet, you need to have it ALL - and you need to not have to really work for it.

Effort.....use it.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Switchtasking vs. Multitasking

Think You're Multitasking? Think Again : NPR

Heck, this is hardly news. There's all kinds of research out there that says that "multitasking" is WAY less efficient than we think it is (for example, if single-task efficiency were 100%, then dual-task efficiency would drop to something like 20% efficiency - that is extremely simplified, but the general concept is accurate).

Switchtasking is just the newest way of looking at it. And it was pretty obvious from previous research as well. We've known for a long time that the human brain really isn't geared for paying attention to more than one thing at a time, so it was just the creation of a new term that made it seem more new and sexy.

More thoughts on the uselessness of multitasking.

Reverse your multitasking impulse!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Learn from your mistakes

Learning From Mistakes Only Works After Age 12, Study Suggests

Yep - this study suggests that children don't learn from mistakes till they hit puberty (more or less). For those of you that have children of your own, this explains a LOT.

Not a big fan of Educational Testing

eduwonkette: What Does Educational Testing Really Tell Us? An Interview with Daniel Koretz

I've never been a great fan of the growing trend of more and more testing for students (the No Child Left Behind Act being a very large contributor to the overall problem). I tend to agree with the three main points, especially with the last one - we keep talking alignment and all alignment does is align two things to be more aligned, it doesn't do much towards the overall goal of providing a better education. Circular arguments rock!

Traditional vs. Blended Learning

Effectiveness Of Traditional And Blended Learning Environments

There is a lot of talk about blended learning amongst the Instructional Designer crowd. The research mentioned in this article seems a bit small in scale and the outcomes less than convincing - and I'm really not sure that the researcher didn't really do the work to try and fine prior research. I'm pretty sure there are a number of books that have been written on the subject, and to think that the whole ISD crowd would have ignored this issue for so long just seems a bit odd.

So - take this all with a very large grain of salt.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Long live the Power-Nap!!!

Prototype - We’ll Fill This Space, but First a Nap -

I'm a HUGE fan of the power nap. There is really not much more deserving of our attention in life. Not a siesta, mind you, but a quick 15 - 30 minute power nap at around 2:30 or so.

Apparently new empirical research has shown that a little nap can boost creativity by 30% or so - not sure how they measured "creativity", but hey, if it give the power-nap a little more street cred, I'm all for it.

Freud lives to fight another day....

Psychoanalytic Therapy Wins Backing -

I'm certainly no fan of Freud (while recognizing his historical importance) - but I suppose that, as with all things involving psychology, individuals will all have a different response to different types of treatment. So, it only makes sense that some people will respond quite well to psychodynamic therapy. Just as some people respond quite well to Prozac, and others do not.

I just really have a strong distaste for the overall premise of Freud's position. I can potentially even get behind the idea that we have deep underlying motives for certain actions that we may not wish to acknowledge on an overt level of awareness, but the idea that all those desires have such a base and, really, deprived foundation just does not sit well with me. I have a higher regard for humanity and our basic motivations than Freud.

Freudian believers can now commence the "Well, you just have latent fears of those desires in your subconscious...." rhetoric....